Whites Overrepresented on Juries of Recent Police Shooting Cases

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson views a document during jury deliberations in the trial of former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager at the Charleston County Court in Charleston, S.C., on Dec. 5, 2016.
Grace Beahm-Pool/Getty Images

A recent Huffington Post investigation finds that whites have been substantially overrepresented on juries in recent police cases where police have used lethal force against civilians.

The investigators were able to obtain juror information for all 13 police shooting trials that have gone to a jury since August 2014, and found that majority-white juries decided 11 of those 13 cases.


At least eight of the cases HuffPost reviewed involved officers fatally shooting people of color. Of the 14 police officers tried in the 13 cases, one was Hispanic and one was Asian. The rest were white.


Tellingly, in almost every case, the racial makeup of the jury did not reflect local demographics. The report notes that although jury pools are supposed to reflect a cross section of the surrounding area, there is no requirement to seat a panel that looks like the community it’s representing.

The report also revealed that attorneys have great influence over the racial composition of juries through a process known as voir dire, where they question prospective jurors about their personal backgrounds or positions on issues that could affect their ability to be impartial in a case.


During this process, lawyers may strike a juror for cause if they determine that he or she could not deliver a fair verdict. Attorneys are also given a number of so-called peremptory strikes, which typically allow them to eliminate jurors without needing to explain why.

Although a 1986 Supreme Court ruling made it unconstitutional for attorneys to dismiss potential jurors for reasons based on race or gender, it’s almost impossible to prove.


The report notes that “filling juries with a disproportionate number of white people could benefit law enforcement, as white Americans are more likely to express pro-law enforcement views than non-white Americans, and they are less likely to be acquainted with or sympathetic to issues of race and policing that many see as integral to these cases.”

Sixty-eight percent of white respondents reported having favorable views of local police in a poll released in early December, compared with only 40 percent of African Americans and 59 percent of Hispanics.


The report further notes that “Ample scholarship suggests police—and Americans more generally—are more likely to exaggerate the threat they face from black individuals. Officers also are more likely to use force, including lethal force, on black suspects, even when the suspects are unarmed, according to research by the Center for Policing Equity, a law enforcement think-tank. White jurors may be less inclined to discuss race when deliberating charges against an officer simply because it doesn’t occur to them.”

“The whole system doesn’t look like the people who come through it,” said Stephen Bright, a lecturer at Yale Law School and president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, to HuffPost.


He noted that 95 percent of the nation’s elected state and local prosecutors are white, according to a 2014 study, along with 80 percent of state judges. “When even the jurors don’t look like the people coming before them as parties and witnesses, how can courts have any credibility with the community?”

Read more at the Huffington Post.

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